Networking vs. Connecting (there’s a difference)

Those who know me in a professional sense know that I love to network. I love going to happy hours, morning get-togethers, lunch and learns, socials – pretty much any opportunity to meet new people. But recently, I attended three events with a week of each other that really started to change the way I think about networking.

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Event #1: NEXT MONDAY LADIES LUNCH, LEARN & NETWORK

This event is put on by a company called Next Monday that specializes in “supporting women with leadership training and executive coaching to hone in on their why – which is their passion and intent and what drives the majority of their decisions.” And they act as a catalyst for bringing smart, talented, driven women together. A friend of mine (who I met through a networking group, go figure) Kelly, has recently started working at Next Monday. She introduced me to their quarterly LLN events. The most recent one was called Connecting with Intention. Tara, the speaker, talked to a group of about 100 women about going beyond the basics in networking. Like how to really connect with others, placing more value on relationship building than network-growing. It was a really inspirational speech (aided by Tara’s sense of humor) that got me thinking about how I can be better at connecting with intention. How can I take it to the next level with my connections? How can I really start to form relationships? One exercise that Tara had us do was to write down 5 people we’d like to have lunch/coffee/drinks with in the next month. So I wrote down my (ambitious) 5, left the meeting feeling inspired, but didn’t actually take any action.

Event #2: NEXT MONDAY HAPPY HOUR

Hosted by the same great company, Kelly invited me to a ladies happy hour at a nice bar in town on the following Monday. For women only, this was just a low-key opportunity to get out of the house one night of the week, meet other women in a relaxed, comfortable setting, and not have to commit to anything (other than a glass of wine, probably). Upon arriving, I saw two women who I knew from other networking groups, so I began to chat with them. One of them, Sarah, introduced me to two of her coworkers. After chatting for a while, I realized that one of them had graduated from the same college, the same year, with the same degree as me. And, we now live within 5 minutes of each other in a small suburb of St. Cloud. We exchanged numbers and promises to meet up at the local watering hole sometime, and I left feeling wholly fulfilled. Not because I had exchanged business cards with every woman in attendance, but because I had made one, real, genuine connection. It felt amazing.

Event #3: WOMEN IN BUSINESS MENTOR MORNING

The following morning, I woke up early to get ready to attend another event I had registered for the previous week. Mentor Morning was another women’s networking-ish event put on by a local media company. I had discovered it the previous Friday, and signed up immediately. Essentially, it was speed-dating for mentors. The event brought around 20 local woman who have excelled in their professional lives, from COO’s to college presidents, to CFO’s to business owners. Mentees could choose 5 women to spend 10 minutes with each to learn a little more about what they do, how they got there, how they overcome professional struggles, etc. As it turns out, two of the women I had on my list from Tara’s event the previous week were mentors – lucky me! I was able to spend time with each of these woman and three others, and it was inspirational, educational, and an absolute blast. Taking notes from Tara’s session again, I followed up afterwards with thank-you’s and we-should-meet-up-sometime requests, and now I am having coffee with one of the women in two days.

Whew 🙂

Let me first say that  I don’t usually attend quite that many events in that time span, but it just worked out that way this time. I will also say that there is something so… satisfying about attending women-only events. We all have something in common. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily take advice from or do business with successful gentlemen, but the ability to be real with other women is what makes it so much fun.

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My top pieces of advice that I gathered from all three events?

  • Listen, listen, listen. Everyone loves to talk about themselves, and if you listen well enough to be able to follow-up on certain things – personal or professional – the next time you meet, that’s how relationships grow.
  • Ask questions. Go deeper. Someone mentions they have a son? Don’t just say “that’s great” and move on. Ask his name. Ask how old he is. Ask what he likes to do. Show genuine interest. And remember the answers.
  • Follow up. Send a text, make a phone call, write a note, or even deliver a small, relevant gift – do something after the fact to say “Thank you for meeting with me, I enjoyed it, good luck with XYZ life-event, keep in touch” – simple as that.
  • Don’t blow a connection. At the LLN event, I sat next to a woman I’d never met before, and we had great conversations throughout – laughing, sharing advice, etc. However, when the event was over, I stupidly didn’t ask for her card. I may never talk to her again. I can’t remember her name. I blew that connection. Don’t do that.
  • Be helpful. Find out what that other person needs help with. Whether it’s a referral to a business you’re familiar with, some advice on a resume, or a recipe you talked about, be helpful with your knowledge and abilities – it will be reciprocated.
  • Enjoy yourself. This is probably number one. If I didn’t enjoy meeting people, getting to know their stories, taking the time to develop relationships etc., I wouldn’t be very good at it. Find out who you enjoy connecting with – it will be mutually beneficial.

So there you go. Next time you meet someone that you’d like to get to know better, think about how you can make a geniune connection. Don’t be afraid to take them to coffee. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If they’re not interested, you will know it, and then you can move on. Now go forth and let your relationships blossom 🙂

#EmilyFayeSays

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10 Things I Wish I’d Known in College

College is the time for knowledge (rhyme unintended) (or was it?). It’s a time to immerse yourself in your studies, find your passions, uncover your skill set and blaze your personal trail. At least that’s what your high school guidance teacher tells you when you’re a senior and about to graduate.

But for a lot of kids, when you get there it takes a different path. It’s more about independence, no rules or curfews, freedom, making friends, trying new things, and probably spending too much money. Often times, that means that studies fall to the wayside. And don’t get me wrong, that’s okay to a point, but like Joni Mitchell warned, “you don’t know what you got til it’s gone.” (definitely had to Google who sang the original – millennial problems…)

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As a graduate now and someone fortunate enough to have happened upon my desired career path fairly early in life, I find myself looking back at what I wish I’d done differently in my college experience. And while, like many college kids, I wish I’d taken less student loans and studied more, this list gets into it a bit more than that. So, here you go…

10 Things I Wish I’d Known in COLLEGE

 1. College professors are actually really awesome. They’re not your high school teachers. They aren’t there to make sure you behave, hold your hand, keep an eye on you etc. They’re there because they are passionate about what they’re teaching, and they want to share that knowledge with their students. Don’t waste the chance to develop relationships with these folks. They can write you recommendations, give you career guidance, and maybe even become your mentor one day.

2. You will regret a bad grade more than missing out on a night of partying. AKA: get your priorities in order. If you have a sociology exam Friday morning, then maybe (just maybe) your time would be better spent in a cramming session vs drinking from a flat keg at a frat house until 3AM. I get it, FOMO is real, but so is having to retake a class after you fail it, or missing graduation honors by decimal points of your GPA. Be smart.

3. Get real-world experience within your major. Some majors, like nursing and education, already have requirements in place that you actually experience the jobs before you can graduate. However others (ahem, marketing) don’t. But it is so important to have some kind of relevant experience within your major when you graduate, because it will give you a definite leg-up on the competition. For example, finance major? Get a teller job. Management major? Work your way up in retail. Communications major? Good luck. Just kidding, you could check out administrative positions. You get the picture. Or maybe if you can’t find anything or nothing seems to fit, do your own thing! Which leads to my next point…

4. Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. What are you passionate about? Animals? Social media? Children? The environment? Now think about this: how can you use that passion to differentiate yourself? Maybe it’s volunteering at a shelter, becoming a big brother/sister to someone, offering to do a company’s social media for free, or getting involved with environmental legislation. Whatever it is, getting involved and following your passion will not only differentiate you, but will help you get a career that you want, rather than a job you have to have.

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5. Really f***ing try in class. I made the mistake of saying “I’m so over this” about 498 times during my college career. I got good grades still, blessed with good guessing skills & my natural ability to BS my way through anything , but what benefit was it to me? After all I was PAYING TO LEARN. The point of college is not simply to just make it to graduation. And while there are things I learned that I still carry with me today, there is so much more I wish I could go back and really absorb. Read textbook. Ask professors hard questions. Stay after class if I didn’t understand. Really…. try.

6. You don’t need those $78 jeans. You will never in your life need $78 jeans. You will learn this about 6 months after graduation, when your first student loan payment is due. You will never pay more than $25 for a pair of jeans again. And a $30 t-shirt. Fahgettaboutet. Thrift stores, clearance racks, using what  you have… stop buying expensive clothes. Save. Your. Money.

7. Spaghetti-o’s and Dr. Pepper do not a meal make. You know, the dining hall does have a salad bar with low-fat dressing. Also, you can buy frozen vegetables for about the same price as those canned monstrosities with the “noodles” and the “meatballs.” Oh, and wheat bread tastes the same as white bread. I know, right? Take care of your body. Just because mom’s not around to cook for you, doesn’t mean you can go gain 20 pounds. Also: stay active. Your school’s gym is cheaper and nicer than anything in the real world, so don’t waste the chance to use it.

SCSU

8. Show your school spirit, damnit. At St. Cloud State University, we had a saying we’d use sarcastically: “St. Cloud Proud…”. We’d say it whenever something bad/embarrassing would happen at our school. Not exactly bubbling over with school spirit. But I have friends who went to other schools who are the opposite. They go to alumni events, they cheer on their sports teams, they are involved and they’re really passionate fans. I find myself jealous of them. I wish I’d been a better fan, because then I could be part of the Husky community with more pride.

9. Use social media wisely. I’m not going to preach the whole “no beer bongs on Facebook” thing because you’ve heard that 15 times over. However, I do feel that college students can use social media wisely and strategically. Connect with your professors. Reach out to businesses you’re interested in. Stay active on LinkedIn. Use Twitter less for retweeting @CommonFemale or @GuyCodes and more for retweeting at @Forbes or @Kiplinger. Use your social presence wisely. (For more tips, check out my slideshow here.)

10. Cherish. Every. Second. You’ve heard this before, but take it from a once-jaded college grad who couldn’t wait to throw up deuces to my university and start pounding pavement: you will miss it. I miss the simple things. Learning. Flexible schedules. Meeting new people. Writing essays (for real). I wish I could go back sometimes. So cherish every second of it. Because it’s going to go fast, it’s going to be crazy, and you are going to miss it.

#EmilyFayeSays

Is your brand believable?

I am not ashamed to admit that I am a superfan of the Fast & Furious franchise. I have seen every movie multiple times (just saw 7 last night, so many tears!), and any time one is on TV, I find myself sucked in again. There’s just something about these action-packed, insane, funny, beautiful movies that gets me every time. Why on earth would a movie that is centered around extreme, out-of-the-box action scenes sit so dearly in my heart? I realized that I can trace my answer back to one thing: believably.

If you’ve ever seen a Fast & Furious movie, you know that the main character, Dominic Toretto (played by Vin Diesel) places family at the highest importance. And in the movie, all of the actors do an amazing job to make their “family” look so real. How? Because they’re all a big family on and off the screen. They live and breathe what they do and who they portray, and it translates to the big screen beautifully.

This is an important lesson that can be translated to many other areas. Specifically, though, I want to talk about brand. Is your brand believable? Do people trust that your brand’s mission translates to your brand itself? Here are some examples of big, successful brands and their mission statements.

Coke

Coca-Cola: To refresh the world, inspire moments of optimism and happiness, to create value and to make a difference.

Nike

Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

Google

Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

How believable are those statements pertaining to their brands? Pretty believable, right? How do you think they were able to make them believable? Through their actions, of course.

Coca-Cola: Coke founded the Coca-Cola Foundation in 1984, with the goal of enhancing the sustainability of local communities worldwide. This Foundation has since partnered with international organizations to promote water stewardship, women’s rights, healthy and active lifestyles, community recycling and education, as well as disaster relief.

I think they’re making a difference.

Nike: Through the Nike Foundation, Nike leverages the power of their employees, brands, consumers and partners to create positive, long-term changes that increase access to sports, empower girls and women in the developing world, and support the communities we live, work, and play in.

Oh, and by athlete, Nike means “every person with a body.” 

Google: The Google Foundation focuses on many different important efforts. To name a few, they are working on fighting disease, increasing environmental responsibility including protecting wildlife, improving computer science education, fighting human trafficking,  and empowering women and girls. All of this is done through technology – working to develop smarter, better, faster ways to make a difference.

Takes a lot of information. 

These brands have been able to make their messaging believable, because they live and breathe what they say every day. It’s great to have aspirations and values, but if your company and brand are not living them, then how are you going to be believable? If you stay true to your mission at the office and at home, people will notice.

#EmilyFayeSays

PS: for other FF superfans like myself, you need to watch this extended Today Show interview with the FF cast – I promise you tears and laughs.

Staying productive during downtime

We all have it every once in a while (that includes you, busy-braggers) (you know who  you are): downtime. And while we may not admit it, we’ve all passed that time with mindless activities, be it chatting with coworkers about nonsense, perusing Facebook until our eyes burn, or scoring some sweet (unnecessary) deals from our favorite online retailer.

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But as a young professional – especially one looking to stand out in their career field – how can we better-fill that downtime? How can you see it less as a detriment and more as a chance to grow? Here are some ideas that have worked for me.

Read industry news/blogs. 

Pretty obvious, but sometimes it’s hard to find that good content. Often times, your employer will already have online subscriptions to industry-related news sources that you didn’t even know about. Or, if you’re familiar with influential individuals in your industry, see if they have a blog or something like it that you can check out regularly. Being in the marketing industry with a passion for social media, here are a few sites/blogs that I frequent:

Convince & Convert

Adweek

TechCrunch

Social Media Examiner

Pro Tip: Subscribe to your favorite new sites’ email newsletters! Then you don’t have to hunt.

Jack up your LinkedIn. 

Notice I didn’t just say “LinkedIn Profile.” While I’ll never bash perfecting your profile, LinkedIn has even more than that to offer. Check out Pulse (under Interests) for articles related to your interests and industry. Follow companies you care about to stay up to date on their posts. Engage with clients, colleagues, and others in your network to grow your presence. Follow industry influencers to stay knowledgeable.

Pro Tip: Make sure you’re not viewing profiles anonymously, and then view with purpose. LinkedIn notifies users when someone views their profile, so if you’re looking to show up in someone influential’s notifications, it’s a good, non-invasive way.

Grow as a social media professional. 

When I first started in the world of marketing, all of my social media accounts were for personal use only. And that’s not to say I was posting inappropriate pictures or vulgar statuses all over, but I simply wasn’t using social for a professional purpose.

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Fast-forward 2 months, and I really started to gain an understanding for how I could use social media, specifically Twitter, in a professional sense. So, I decided to create a “professional-only” Twitter account, and I also took the privacy settings off of my Instagram account. Not only do I now use them for connecting with colleagues & clients, but they are now my “window to the world” in the marketing industry. I use them to connect with industry professionals to gain knowledge on industry trends. I use them to connect with others at industry-related events I attend. Plus, I love using my Twitter account for industry “chats” (specifically #AdweekChat). While I don’t devote every waking second to them, I do take advantage of downtime to update my profiles, find interesting things to share, discover new people to follow – you get the picture.

Pro Tip: While you should always keep a professional tone on your professional social media accounts, it’s okay to be silly/fun. Don’t sound like a robot – make jokes, comment genuinely, and, well, be a human!

Go above and beyond for your client/company. 

This might already be expected, but often times we’re too busy to devote time to it and then forget when we actually have time. Think about it: how can you go above and beyond to either wow the client or improve things within your company (or department)? Devote 20 minutes or so during downtime to thinking up “free ideas” for clients. Or spend 10 minutes chatting with coworkers about a certain work process to see how others feel it could be improved. Who knows, you might just come up with a big solution!

Pro Tip: Regularly block out time on your calendar for brainstorming. Good ideas often come from a flowing thought process, so avoiding interruptions can make for the best results.

& when all else fails… take a break.

I used to work for a company that allowed 15 minute breaks ever morning and afternoon to go for a group walk around the development. It might seem like a waste of time, but so often I came back more awake and energized and ready to start pumping out some great work. Removing your brain from the task at hand can recharge your system and get you re-inspired. Just make sure to check with your employer first 🙂

Pro Tip: If a walk isn’t your thing, offer to make a coffee run to a local Caribou or Starbucks. Ask your coworkers if they want anything. Not only will it get you out of the office for 15 minutes or so, but you’ll be delivering smiles (& caffeine) to your coworkers – win/win!

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What do you do with your downtime? How do you stay busy? Share your tips in the comments! & as always, thanks for checking out what #EmilyFayeSays!

Using Twitter & LinkedIn for your Career

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As part of my never-ending quest to be a networking-maven, I joined a group called NEXT St. Cloud about 7 months ago. NEXT is a networking & professional development group meant just for young (under 40) professionals. We meet once monthly for an hour, and each meeting consists of lunch, group updates, and a presentation on some relevant topic. Topics range from leadership to career advice to city development and beyond.

This week, the topic was about how to use the social sites Twitter & LinkedIn in your professional career, prepared by the @FlintGroup team and myself, & taught by yours truly.

I’m extremely passionate about social media, and a strong believer in building your personal brand if you’re in the professional services realm at all. Twitter is my happy place (Lord help me) and LinkedIn is my water-cooler. So, naturally, when I was asked by leadership to give a talk about these two networks, I happily obliged.

Here is a link to the presentation if you’re interested in skimming all 32 slides: Using Twitter & LinkedIn for your Career. And I also want to give a MAJOR shout-out to my colleague & friend @britthanso who helped me prepare this presentation!

If you’re just looking for some highlights, here are (what I feel) the top 5 takeaways:

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  1. Be human. Don’t be a robot. Don’t automate your tweets or posts (especially if they have your name on them). Joke, wise-crack, be honest. Just do so wisely. (Yes, delete that keg stand picture…)
  2. While sharing others’ content is a great way to start and fill in gaps, it’s even more fun to share your own thoughts/feelings. Share what makes you happy. Live-tweet and industry event. Post a funny (appropriate) picture. People follow you for what you have to share – so share it!
  3. Be helpful. I’m going to quote the content marketing genius @JayBaer here: “If you sell something, you can make a customer today. If you help someone, you can create a customer for life.” Don’t always be thinking in terms of sales & dollars. Think in terms of relationships and connections. Your customers will remember you for it.
  4. When it comes to time spent on social, do what works best for you. Find a reasonable amount of time you can commit to social media, and stick to it. Realize, too, that social is so much more than something you do on the side. It’s a new business tool, a networking group and an enormous knowledge base. Take advantage of that.
  5. Social media opens doors to millions of individuals around the world. It gives you a chance to rub elbows with big brands, CEO’s, and even celebrities. It should no longer be treated as a “side project” for your career – it’s a must.

What works well for you in your industry? What do you think doesn’t perform so well? I would love to hear your experiences!

& as usual, thanks for checkin’ what #EmilyFayeSays… 🙂

Networking. AKA: Fake It ‘Til You Make It

My first “big girl” job was in the technology industry, and my clients were located anywhere from Minneapolis to Spain to Israel to Germany. Needless to say, my job did not really immerse me into the local business realm, and there wasn’t a strong need for me to get out and network with other local businesses.

However, when I found myself looking for a job in the fall of 2013, I realized that I should have spent more time developing my local connections.

When I was hired at HatlingFlint in January, 2014, I asked my boss if I could attend an event called Chamber Connection. This weekly meeting of 120+ local business professionals is a chance to get together to network & learn about each other’s companies  for two hours every Friday morning.

My first meeting was… terrifying. Admittedly shy, I found myself secluded in a corner on my phone, unsure of how to start conversations or even who to start one with.

A year later, I can walk into these meetings and know about 85% of the attendees names & companies.

How, you ask, did I overcome my fear and learn to network? Follow the simple rules below, and you too can Fake it ’til you make it *cheesy point-and-wink maneuver*

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Find somewhere to network! Kinda obvious. Check out your local Chamber of Commerce for events, or look into joining a local BNI or Biz to Biz chapter. Another great way to get out there: volunteer! Often done in groups, volunteering exposes you to many other professionals while you make a difference. Other ideas include local Rotary chapters, city committees (or some committee with a cause you care about), Community Ed. classes for professional development, local business conferences, or even joining sports teams. Take every group activity you do as a chance to network.

Leave your phone in your car. If that’s what it takes for you to not look at the thing, then do it. Not only will it prevent you from secluding yourself into a corner, staring at a screen, it will force you to find something else to do other than look like a weirdo standing alone talking to nobody. Don’t be that weirdo. I have. It’s not fun.

Start with what you know. Don’t doubt the power of small-talk. It gets a conversation going – even if it’s often meaningless. Is there free food at the event? Comment on its quality to someone! Is the weather unusually cold? Always a good conversation starter. Do you love someone’s cardigan? Tell them! Getting an easy back-and-forth going opens a door for more important questions, and starts to develop a relationship.

Don’t sell. People don’t come to networking events to be sold to. They come to develop relationships. Would YOU want someone trying to sell you their service at a networking event – especially if you have no particular interest in it at the time? It’s definitely okay to talk about where you work, what you do there, etc. but avoid putting people into awkward selling situations when they didn’t ask for it. If you do, chances are they’ll avoid talking to you in the future for fear of being reeled in again.

Listen & remember. When talking to people about their business, interests, family etc. do more listening than talking. Understandably, everyone wants to get their story out there. But the people you’re talking to will be even more impressed when you approach them next time you see them to ask how their daughter Molly did at her soccer game last Tuesday. People love to talk about themselves – and love people who listen. ALSO – Remember peoples’ names. Not only is it polite, but it just plain feels good to be remembered!

Exchange business cards. Always, ALWAYS have enough business cards on you. You never know when you’ll meet your next potential client, and nothing will progress if you don’t swap information first. Of course, don’t just go up to people handing them business cards – establish a bit of a relationship first. But don’t forget to ask them for a card at the end of your conversation. They’ll likely be happy you asked, as they might forget to themselves.

Get active. Volunteer for leadership positions, committee roles, or speaking opportunities. For example, in my Chamber Connection meeting, we have people who greet everyone on Friday mornings as they come in. Members can volunteer to be a greeter for a month. I did so, and that gave me a chance to say hello to every person who entered the meeting – and them to me. Do something to stand out & to get noticed. It might be scary at first, but remember that everyone had a “first time” at something, so you’re not alone.

Recognize others. Did you receive outstanding service at Kathy’s boutique? Or did you eat the BEST sandwich you’ve ever had at John’s deli? Talk about it! Spread the word! Something as simple as saying “Say, have you eaten at Subs R Us yet? I have, and it was fantastic!” during a conversation with someone else can go a long way. When you spread good word about others, others’ will likely spread good word about you.

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And, with all of this combined, you can Fake it ’til you make it. Networking is not first-nature for 99% of us. It’s awkward. It’s scary. It forces us out of our comfort zones. You are not alone. Everyone started somewhere. But in the end, remember that networking is all about relationshipbuilding. Most “expert” network-ers I know are successful because they look at networking as a chance to make friends – and then possibly business connections. Keep it light, fun, and thoughtful, and you’ll do fine.

Please remember, these musings are from my own experience. They’ve worked for me – but do what is most comfortable for you! And as always, thanks for checking out what #EmilyFayeSays!